Did Imran Khan falter in his choice of chief minister for KP?
After much thought and consultations, Imran Khan picked former provincial minister Mehmood Khan as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidate for the office of Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
As the PTI has more than two-thirds majority in the provincial assembly, the 46-year old Mehmood Khan will easily win the contest for leader of the house in case the weak opposition puts up a joint candidate against him.
He will thus become the first ever chief minister of KP from his native Swat and the wider Malakand division comprising seven districts. The conflict-hit area, which suffered from militancy, military operations, floods and earthquake in the past more than a decade, will benefit from having a chief minister, provided Mehmood Khan shows more dynamism than he managed as a provincial minister during PTI’s first five-year term in office in KP from 2013-2018.
Mehmood Khan is lucky to be named the next chief minister as he wasn’t initially in the race for the job. There were three main contenders -- former chief minister Pervez Khattak who wanted to retain the position at any cost, former KP Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser who felt he was the most deserving having spent 22 years in PTI and remained loyal to Imran Khan, and Mohammad Atif Khan, the former education and energy and power minister who was reportedly personally promised by the PTI chairman that he was his first choice.
As luck would have it, Pervez Khattak and Asad Qaiser, along with Ali Amin Gandapur from Dera Ismail Khan and Dr Haider Ali from Swat, won seats in both the National Assembly and KP Assembly. The PTI was desperately in need of MNAs to gain the majority in the National Assembly to be able to form its government and elect Imran Khan as the prime minister. All four were asked to keep their National Assembly seats and give up the provincial assembly seats as the PTI had 67 MPAs plus six independents supporting it and, therefore, was in a comfortable position to form the KP government.
This opened the way for Atif Khan, who had narrowly lost the National Assembly election in his native Mardan to ANP’s former chief minister Ameer Haider Hoti and decisively won his previous provincial assembly seat. Just when Atif Khan was poised to become the PTI candidate for the chief minister’s office, Pervez Khattak put the spanner in the works by publicly warning that he would go to the extent of quitting the party and politics if he was ignored for the job. Imran Khan and his aides had to address his concerns and take him on board.
Pervez Khattak is on record telling his supporters that he was offered the job of President of Pakistan or speaker of the National Assembly or any federal ministry of his choice. When he finally agreed to shift to the centre, apparently to become the federal interior minister, he also managed to persuade Imran Khan not to consider Atif Khan, his main rival for the chief minister’s job, and instead select a third person who is non-controversial.
That third person was Mehmood Khan, a gentleman and a man of few words from Matta in Swat district. He was junior to many PTI stalwarts. He had joined the party in 2012 and contested and won his first election on the PTI ticket in May 2013. He hadn’t done anything extraordinary as the minister for irrigation and then sports and culture. For just two months, he had also served as provincial home minister.
However, he had certain plus points. He wasn’t part of any group in the PTI even though Pervez Khattak obliged him by pushing his name for the chief minister’s office. Mehmood Khan doesn’t have any scandal attached to his name, although he earned criticism when he once put official funds of Rs1.8 million in his personal bank account as a minister. He later claimed he did this by mistake, which was later rectified and an inquiry exonerated him of the charge.
Another advantage for Mehmood Khan was the fact that PTI had achieved 100 per cent result in the 2018 general election from the Malakand Division by winning from all three National Assembly constituencies and the eight KP Assembly seats. His selection also is good news for the people of Malakand division as it is the first time since Pakistan’s independence that it is getting a chief minister. Usually, someone from the Peshawar valley becomes the chief minister and governor. If Atif Khan had become the chief minister, Mardan district would again have got the chief minister as ANP’s Ameer Haider Hoti got the job from 2008-2013 before making way for Pervez Khattak from Nowshera.
Though Imran Khan had repeatedly said that he would make all appointments on merit, he has been unable to do so in case of Mehmood Khan, selecting him due to political compulsions rather than merit. The tussle between Pervez Khattak and Atif Khan created an opportunity for Mehmood Khan, whose laidback style and lacklustre performance as a minister didn’t merit his appointment as the chief minister.
The chief minister’s job is tension-filled, he needs to keep his party’s lawmakers happy and disciplined and disarm the opposition. The new incumbent would have to look after not only KP but also erstwhile Fata, which was merged with the province in May and would undergo major administrative and judicial reforms, including holding local government and provincial assembly elections in the coming months.
Imran Khan had praised Atif Khan profusely on his performance as the education and power and energy minister in the previous PTI government. If merit was the criteria for the chief minister’s job, Atif Khan would have won the contest hands down.
In the end though, politics rather than merit prompted the PTI chairman to make his choice for the prized job. Though Atif Khan despite his disappointment has restrained himself, there are reports he is considering his political future and may not accept a cabinet position. His supporters are alleging that Pervez Khattak has succeeded in getting appointed a dummy chief minister after failing to get the job. They claim Atif Khan being independent-minded would have resisted Pervez Khattak’s interference in provincial affairs.
Though nobody in the PTI could have objected openly to Imran Khan’s decision as they knew they got elected primarily due to the PTI founder’s charisma and popularity, the strong-willed party chairman looked weak as he came under pressure from Pervez Khattak and reportedly also Jehangir Tareen while opting for Mehmood Khan instead of Atif Khan. He could have persisted with his first choice, Atif Khan, but he didn’t do so due to concern that this could lead to grouping in the party.
Imran Khan could have used the democratic option by seeking the opinion of the elected MPAs through a secret ballot about their choice for the chief minister. However, he kept the decision-making powers in his hands and will now have to take responsibility if Mehmood Khan is unable to deliver. Imran Khan wanted a new leader in KP to lead the PTI’s agenda for reforms as Pervez Khattak being a traditional politician was considered unsuitable for the challenge. His choice was made under compulsion and the circumstances in which the decision was taken cannot be termed as a good start to the ‘Naya Pakistan’ that the PTI promised to the people.